Sunday, October 19, 2008

Collected random tidbits of fuckedupedness.

Watched the various pundits this morning and had this thought:

If Sarah Palin were Dan Quayle, would guys like Colin Powell be supporting McCain?

How much of her being an idiot is amplified in people's minds by the fact that she's female?

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From the NOW newsletter, Kim Gandy apparently said at the 2008 NOW conference:

"The next president needs to make economic equality for women a priority. This includes promoting educational opportunity, workplace equality, ending job segregation, educational segregation, [emphasis added] and promoting participation in good paying careers, like the STEM careers"

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From one of the pundits this morning, they said Barack Obama's campaign defines "middle class" as individuals who make over $200,000, or over $250,000 for couples.

Implications of that:

1. Dear Kim Gandy, mrphd + msphd make a combined income yearly of less than $80,000.

DOES THAT SOUND LIKE A GOOD PAYING TO YOU???

Nobody can guarantee we'll get jobs doing what we have been training to do.

DOES THAT SOUND LIKE A CAREER TO YOU???

2. Is the assumption that the man makes $200,000 per year, and the woman makes $50,000 per year? Is it??? Because that's what it sounds like from those numbers!?!!

3. Where are the republican pundits getting these numbers? They're not front and center on the Obama campaign's website.

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A recent study on the career paths of PhDs from the Yale graduate program:

Only 1 out of 30 from a top bioscience department obtained a tenure-track faculty position. I found the link over at a blog called Sandwalk.

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A disturbing secret of the job market, and sign of the extreme fuckedupedness of the current postdoc system:

I recently learned that several of the people I know who were able to get faculty positions in the last few years did it by having funding.

How did they have funding, you ask?

They wrote R01s with their PIs, which many of us have done. The difference is whether it says this in your recommendation letter (which nobody reads unless your CV already looks spectacular!), vs. whether the postdoc co-author was listed as co-PI on those grants.

Why is this fuckedup, you might ask?

1. Postdocs are not eligible to apply for R01s. I think this is a major problem with our current system.

2. Senior PIs are having trouble (and rightly so!) getting multiple R01s.

Listing a young scientist as co-author is just a new way to exploit the system.

The PI gets credit for "promoting" young scientists, plus they get money when they otherwise wouldn't.

And did I mention that in most cases, the postdoc does ALL the writing, and the PI just adds his name [the only examples I know of involved male PIs]?

3. This is becoming an expected qualification for an assistant professor position, at least at some schools, and particularly in the current economic climate.

BUT IT IS AN UNSTATED REQUIREMENT.

We need to have a system, and it has to be transparent and consistent. It can't be fair if it's based on unwritten rules.

4. At least at my school, but I suspect at many others, making this a promotion requirement is a massive catch-22. You can't write the grant unless you're promoted; and you can't get promoted until you get the grant. Some major string-pulling has to happen behind the scenes to make these kinds of arrangements.

In other words, don't expect to get to do this unless you work for a powerful PI.

5. It favors the favorites (and in most cases, this means it favors the men). I've seen different versions of these kinds of scenarios play out.

One is that only the favorite guy (let's be honest) in the lab gets to be co-PI.

Sometimes other postdocs (god forbid, some of the women!) would benefit more from writing a grant, either because they need the boost to their careers, or are more senior, etc.

Often, multiple lab members contribute substantially to the grantwriting and submission, but only the favorite guy gets official credit.

Another scenario I've seen is when a senior female postdoc does the same amount of work as the favorite guy, but she gets screwed when she leaves the lab.

For Favorite Guy, it is seen as an equal partnership or a friendly competition. Communication lines are open, reagents are shared, etc.

For Former Female Postdoc (FFP), the PI reneges on their agreement about who does what going forward, and FFP can't afford to get into a turf war with Former PI. Former PI does not keep her informed, and refuses to send agreed-upon reagents after FFP leaves.
And there's nothing she can do. Former PI controls everything from who speaks at meetings, to who publishes in what journals, to her chances at future grants.

What's an FFP to do?

If the only option is to not attempt to write a grant with the PI, she's screwed.

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10 Comments:

At 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe very little of my opinion of Sarah Palin is 'amplified' by her sex. She says and has done some outrageously stupid and wrong things. If I imagine a man doing the same things....yep, crazy dumb. I also think John McCain is an idiot. Not amplified by his sex either, but I would say his being a man, society has granted him a pass to have a much worse temper (as in tantrum). Which makes him scarier.

 
At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Scott said...

I think that $250K+ is a definition of "upper class", two postdocs would be middle class, on their way to upper-middle class someday. not too shabby.

even a US grad student making $20K/year is still in the top 11% of earners worldwide. not too shabby.

you can check your household here:

http://www.globalrichlist.com/

 
At 5:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Kim Gandy meant non-academic positions (where most STEM workers are). People coming out of my lab in the physical sciences were making ~80k with a 50-60k signing bonus in the semiconductor industry.

I can't think of anyone I know with a STEM PhD who is out of science (though I do know 3 people teaching high school as their first choice careers). Everyone who left academia has a high paying job. I know a few people who have been through layoffs, but everyone found another job pretty quickly. Not all of STEM is as &*!@^&*! as life sciences.

 
At 8:43 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 11:58,

I agree. But I also think a lot of people tend to find it easier to write off when a guy is stupid (as with Quayle, W, and McCain).

Scott,

That's irrelevant. The cost of living is also a helluva lot lower worldwide than it is in most research centers in the US.

Anon 5:41,

Uh, I think you're just wrong, although this could be generational. When I was in college, most of the physics grad students I knew ended up finding they couldn't get jobs.

Don't you know anyone who got kicked out of grad school in the physical sciences? Don't most schools still overload incoming graduate classes, use the TAs as slave labor and then get rid of them with a master's degree?

And another thing. I've been watching the way the engineering department at my school awards degrees and hand-holds students through grad school. It's appalling how much easier they have it than we do in the life sciences. The standards of performance are orders of magnitude different. So why is there all this funding to bring engineers into the life sciences, and none to go the other way around? If there are so many STEM jobs outside the life sciences, why isn't anyone creating programs to bring all these incredibly talented scientists out of the life sciences and into other areas of STEM?

 
At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Anon 5:41.

I know lots of people who left VOLUNTARILY (usually after 1 year) without a degree, having decided science wasn't for them. My department required 1st years to TA regardless of fellowship status, and we were all aware of the exploitative aspect of TA labor, even going in as new grad students. But it was only a year (for most people), and they were paid enough to live on.

I know a few who left with Masters. They also left voluntarily, mostly either due to a family move (read women following their mates' careers) or to take jobs in industry with their Masters degrees because they got sick of academia. I know one person who was kicked out, and one who probably was (he left after I did, not sure what happened, but seems likely). They are in the extreme minority of all the STEM grad students I knew.

Almost all of my physicist friends were biophysics or condensed matter people--they had no problems finding industry jobs. I agree that STEM degrees in fields with no industry interest (like say particle physics) are much more of a risk, and there certainly isn't a shortage of trained personnel there. On the other hand, I know a few unemployed lawyers, and they are also $100k+ in debt. That doesn't stop people from paying the big bucks to go to law school.

I do think the "shortage" in STEM workers is completely overblown, or more industries would offer things like signing bonuses (only heard of this for semiconductor, especially since the first few years at a big semiconductor firm can be rather unpleasant). But in a country where the median income is around $45k, most STEM jobs pay better than that (including some postdocs!), so the jobs look (and can be) attractive. For example, I know that there is a HUGE shortage of qualified personnel for some government and contractor positions that require US citizenship.

I also think that the life sciences have been pretty screwed over by the rapid doubling then undoubling in funding, which makes life from where you sit seems worse.

 
At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Writing a compelling application package is orders of magnitude easier than writing a grant. If you don't get interviews, it is clear you do not have grant writing skills.

The system is fairly transparent. Anyone who has postdoctoral experience is encouraged to apply to most positions. There are relatively minimal requirements to getting a faculty position. It's just that certain experiences provide deserved advantages. You need to be able to write a grant. You need to be able to give a talk. You need to be able to write a paper. You need to be able to do about a hundred little things. You need to be able to negotiate for things you _NEED_.

If you can't figure out how to actively manage your career to get those advantages, why should you be hired into a faculty position over someone else who has?

If you had to generate 50% of your salary from grants within 3 years, could you? From what I've seen, that's what new hire PhD medical school faculty are expected to do. So how can you get there from where you are today?

1) Secure a staff scientist position to begin on 01 July 09, get in writing your ability to submit grants before signing ANYTHING.
2) Get out of your current lab by May.
3) Take June off.
4) Build an R21 application out of your first 6 months of work.
5) Revise it over the next 6 months, submit it and apply for faculty positions in 2010.
6) Get a couple interviews in 2010, but no offers.
7) Plan to suck it up for another 2-3 years this way.

This seems realistic from where you are right now.

Also, you should actually read the Yale PhD experience analysis. The representation of 1/26 tenured faculty as the 'success' rate is disingenuous. 3 are still tenure-track, four others are in academic work and many others have career paths that could lead back to academia if they chose.

17 years after the BS, gets these people to be approximately 38-39 (which you can verify by scanning the article). What do we know demographically about NIH investigators? First R01 grants are awarded on the average to 42 year old PhD investigators. To me that means that Yale-trained investigators give up on the academic route if not successful fairly early in their careers.

Honestly, I would expect no less. Ambitious people from the top programs will seek out places where they can make an impact and not have to worry about the absurd pressures of the academic lifestyle.

 
At 2:16 PM, Anonymous Lora said...

"So why is there all this funding to bring engineers into the life sciences, and none to go the other way around? If there are so many STEM jobs outside the life sciences, why isn't anyone creating programs to bring all these incredibly talented scientists out of the life sciences and into other areas of STEM?"

There are lots of reasons, and they are complicated. I will try to summarize.

1. Engineers get done with their programs faster and more reliably. Their field doesn't often think a postdoc necessary, because developing new techniques from scratch is what they do; learning how to run Machine XYZ would be superfluous. Their programs tend to adhere to rigid structures, moreso than life sciences. There are many philosophical reasons for this. *shrug*

2. Engineering departments are not snobs about working with industry, nor do they see going to non-academic jobs as a failure.

3. The type of jobs biotech creates do not require more than undergrad level biochem and cell/molec bio skills. They do require the ability to work in multiple fields at once, breadth of experience, and a thorough understanding of economics. It's easier to teach someone a handful of molecular bio skills than to broaden the scope of someone whose graduate experience is literally defined by its narrow focus.

 
At 3:56 PM, Anonymous Scott said...

not irrelevant at all since cost and quality of living is actually a direct consequence of rising incomes.

your argument would mean living on $20K in the US is no better than living on $1K in Africa. I'll take the $20K in the US.

 
At 8:40 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Lora,

1. Engineers get done with their programs faster and more reliably. Their field doesn't often think a postdoc necessary

Okay, I'll buy that. If they really get done faster on average, then that would help them have less attrition, yes. And postdocs are not necessary, but the next thing you wrote makes no sense:

because developing new techniques from scratch is what they do; learning how to run Machine XYZ would be superfluous.

WTF?? What the hell do you think we do as postdocs in the life sciences? Do you really think all we learn to do is run a new machine???

NOTE TO CLUELESS NON-LIFE SCIENCE READERS: WHAT WE DO AS POSTDOCS IS DEVELOP NEW TECHNIQUES FROM SCRATCH. IF YOU'RE A POSTDOC AND YOU'RE NOT DOING THIS, YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE A HARD TIME IN ACADEMIA.

2. Engineering departments are not snobs about working with industry, nor do they see going to non-academic jobs as a failure.

Well, here's the thing. I'd argue that engineers lack the same kind of desire for creativity that makes us want to choose academia over being told what to do. Tomato, tomahto.

3. The type of jobs biotech creates do not require more than undergrad level biochem and cell/molec bio skills. They do require the ability to work in multiple fields at once, breadth of experience, and a thorough understanding of economics.

I agree on the first point. Industry wants drones. If engineers want to be drones, then it's a perfect fit, except that's not where the jobs are. The jobs for engineers are mostly higher up than the ones offered to life scientists. Besides, I was talking about GRANTS. That would be in ACADEMIA.

It's easier to teach someone a handful of molecular bio skills than to broaden the scope of someone whose graduate experience is literally defined by its narrow focus.

I disagree with both of these statements. I know a lot of people who can fake their way through crappy, slow-ass molecular biology techniques, and few who are really good at it and know what they're doing. Molecular biology is easy to do badly; it's hard to do with finesse.

And re: graduate experience with narrow focus, I'm going to write a short post on this re: the life sciences in particular.

Scott,

I guess you're more materialistic than I am. I've never lived in Africa on $1k so I don't know what that would buy you, but minus the war and disease, I would think somewhere with good weather, enough shelter and food would be fine with me. I would not miss computers, cars, or tv. Americans are too focused on the trappings.

 
At 2:11 PM, Blogger Fred said...

I know a few who left with Masters. They also left voluntarily, mostly either due to a family move (read women following their mates' careers) or to take jobs in industry with their Masters degrees because they got sick of academia. (Anon 5:41, 1:15)

I don't think you're getting the sense of "voluntarily" here.

 

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